A gas station attendant made me pay a dollar for hot water (which I thought was absurd) and treated me rudely. And I learned something.
It was compassion.
It was a magical day. My family and I went apple picking. We drove down two-lane highways surrounded by wood and canopied by leafy branches that were starting to show signs of fall. The air was crisp, and the sun was beginning to break free from the clouds. The orchard was small, but the apples were sweet. We picked some Fuji and Gold Delicious. We felt rich.
And after lunch, a pony ride, and feeding some farm animals with our kid; we decided to return to the city. We shared our favorite memories of the day before we got back to our building.
The rental car needed to be returned, but, before that, I had to refill the tank. And there’s a station fairly close, so I went there. I got to the pump and pumped. And, as I jumped in the seat to leave, I saw my empty paper cup with my teabag that I usually use twice before I throw it away, but only used once. I went into the gas station to fill my cup up and get the most out of my teabag. I had my phone in the car and didn’t want to linger in the store. So, I ran in and filled up the cup and ran out.
And as I was leaving, I hear, “Excuse me!” I check the car for my phone and then pop back in.
“Yes,” I say, as the hulking attendant glares at my cup of freshly steeping tea. “It’s my cup and tea, and I just got hot water for it.”
“Would you just barge into someone’s living room and take hot water?” the attendant asked.
I didn’t think it had anything to do with living rooms or hot water. He thought I stole from his shop and realized I just got hot water. So he wanted to save face. He did that by telling me to pay him for the hot water. It was outrageous, but I asked him how much to see what outrageous costs. He told me one dollar; I tossed it onto the counter, wished him a nice day, jumped into the car, and zipped away to return my rental.
As I drove uptown, I was seething as I replayed the situation in my mind. I was drenched in anger and incensed with injustice. All of the bliss from the day was melting away. “It’s not the dollar; it’s the principle of the thing,” I told myself, feeding the fire.
Then I realized something that changed my whole perspective. It was this.
Pain is contagious. People who are in pain tend to inflict it on others. When one is in misery, they often make others miserable. I mean, anyone who likens a gas station to their living room can’t be enjoying their life that much.
That perspective extinguished the fire of anger I had for him. He made me feel momentary pain, but he seems to dwell in it. I had compassion for him, and that stopped my pain from him and allowed me to be pained for him.
And if we all took a moment to stop and reflect on what the person who hurt us may be experiencing, we might, just might, make this world a little better.
If nothing else, you will be.